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Concerns over Thaad will be addressed: Mattis

June 16,2017
Secretary of Defense James Mattis told lawmakers Washington would address Seoul’s concerns over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile shield, an issue that could be raised in the upcoming summit between the presidents of South Korea and the United States at the end of this month.

“I think we’re going to find a way forward,” Mattis told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on defense on Wednesday in response to a lawmaker’s concern over delays in the deployment of the U.S. antimissile system to Korea.

“As you know, the president of South Korea is visiting here shortly, and we’re trying to resolve this, just so we have clarity on the way ahead.”

President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump are scheduled for their first summit on June 29 and 30 in Washington and are expected to focus on how to curb North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat.

Mattis described the delays in the deployment of the Thaad system, as a Korean domestic political concern and “not a military-to-military issue” between Seoul and Washington.

The Pentagon chief responded to Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine, who raised concerns about Seoul’s decision to delay Thaad’s deployment amid North Korea’s increased nuclear and missile threats.

The Moon administration called for the suspension of additional Thaad launchers last week.

“It was a combined decision, however it was taken by a previous administration,” said Mattis, on the decision to deploy Thaad last year under the Park Geun-hye administration.

He said, “We have not been asked to remove the system or its two launchers. We have several other launchers in the country, in theater right now, or in Korea; and they have not been deployed. They are inside Korean government concerns; they do not have concerns with us, and they have made that very clear with our combined commander on the ground, [Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea.]”

Mattis added, “However, they do have some questions about whether or not their environmental law was followed correctly, and so they want to get the environmental impact statement done.”

Key components of the Thaad battery, including a powerful radar system and two missile launchers, were installed in a golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, in late April, ahead of the election of Moon Jae-in as president on May 9. Four launchers also arrived in Korea and are waiting to be deployed before the end of this year.

Since taking office, Moon challenged the previous administration’s assessment that the Thaad deployment was urgent enough to skip a proper environmental impact study and ordered a full survey, which may take up to two years.

But the Blue House last week also said it has no intention of reversing the decision to deploy it.

Mattis also recalled that the Central Intelligence Agency had told him the North Korea issue would likely be the “earliest crisis” he would face when he met with CIA officials ahead of his Senate confirmation. “So that was why my first trip was to the Pacific,” he said, referring to his meetings with political and military heads in Tokyo and Seoul in early February.

As he testified on the Department of Defense’s budget posture before the Senate appropriations subcommittee, Mattis also reiterated that the Trump administration’s approach to North Korea is to find a diplomatic solution.

“The military options are uniformly very, very tough,” said Mattis. “They’re very serious, and the effort right now, led by Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson under the president’s direction, is to find a diplomatic solution, if there is anything along those lines possible.”

He added that there is a “full effort” to achieve this by inter-agencies working with State Secretary Tillerson.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]